Grain Hazards
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2019 / 01 / 23

When it comes to the health hazards of grains, gluten has dominated the headlines. Which is odd, considering only slightly more than 1% of the western population is negatively affected by gluten. But there are many other ways in which grains can be harmful and even deadly for people regardless of allergies.

Now, before we list the dangers of grains, let's not forget that the naturally long "shelf-life" of grains and ease of production were an essential part in the transition of nomads to large civilizations.

1. Entrapment. Contrary to popular belief, quicksand doesn't pull you under. It's denser than the human body, which means you'll float on top. That's not to say you can't get stuck. A victim of quicksand typically dies because he or she is not rescued and is left to starve, freeze, or die from dehydration. Grain on the other hand does live up to the myths associated with quicksand. If the grain is being drained, it can pull someone under within seconds. Rotting grains can also be a danger as it clumps and cakes, creating situations where workers can break through these features and become entrapped. Corn and soybeans are the most commonly implicated grains in entrapments. Once the victim is chest deep, every time he or she breathes out, grain fills the space, tightening around their chest like a boa constrictor. The amount of force required to pull someone out is often more than the amount of force required to permanently damage the spine. Read OSHA grain accident reports here:

2. Fumes. Chemicals used to maintain the grain and gasses from rotting grain can have long-term health effects on workers or potentially cause workers to pass out in an improperly ventilated storage area.

3. Dust. The dust associated with grains can ignite, causing an intense flash fire. They can also cause the debilitating and sometimes fatal condition called "Farmer's Lung".

4. Diet. Most grains contain antinutrients such as phytic acid, lectins, and saponins which can irritate or damage the intestines and interfere with absorption of important vitamins and minerals. Though it should be noted that a large portion of these chemicals are denatured during proper cooking.

5. Mycotoxins. Mycotoxins, most notably aflatoxins, are harmful chemicals produced by molds and other fungi that can cause cancer and even death. Grains are particularly susceptible to mycotoxin contamination because of their large surface area and because they are often stored for a much longer amount of time compared to other agricultural products.

6. Animal feed. Meat from grain-fed animals typically contains higher levels of fat, less omega-3 fatty acids, and less nutrients compared to meat from animals fed their natural diet. Grains are also more likely to be contaminated with pesticides which accumulate in animal fat. And, because grain feeding requires less land, grain-fed animals tend to be put in closer quarters, increasing risks of disease and requiring more antibiotic use. This increases the risk of antibiotic resistant foodborne illness.
This video was likely shot in Russia and presumably features a small mobile grain bin which is being emptied into another grain bin below. Watching the pigeons get caught and go motionless elicits feelings that are somewhere between a tranquil death and immense claustrophobia. And the inability for the surrounding pigeons to grasp the situation is disheartening. However, it is possible that this particular bin is shallow enough that the birds are simply being pulled through a nozzle and flying back around to the top again.
John Poole
A worker inspecting a silo.
A grain silo collapsing and exploding.